Growing up as the only Jewish girl my age in small-town Indiana, I have a lifetime of experience in being the odd-one-out when it comes to Christmas.
My family did not even have a so-called Hanukkah bush, though one family member loved Christmas music, especially Johnny Mathis’s album. Like other families at the time, we watched the Christmas movies on TV or at the theatre. But that was entertainment, not something we “believed” in.
When people who did not know I was Jewish asked me about my plans for Christmas, I felt flustered figuring out what to say to them. If I just said “We’re Jewish” that would usually end the conversation. But people then were sometimes confused about Jewish people. I remember a classmate asking if she could feel the horns on my head, explaining that her mother’s hairdresser had told her that Jews have horns.
Later, as a University student in the late 1960s, I decided I didn’t want to be Jewish anymore. I began a quest for what I did want to be—what I really believed and wanted to be associated with. The story about how I discovered the Baha’i Faith (or some would say how it discovered me) is the subject of another essay for another time, perhaps. But in 1980 I decided to become a Baha’i. The irony? Once again I would be the odd-one-out.
Over the years though, the Baha’i teachings have shown me that the spirit of Christmas is indeed something to celebrate. I now accept and revere Jesus Christ as God’s messenger for his day. Being a Baha’i has brought me closer to my Christian brothers and sisters around the world, since I recognize the essential unity of all religions and the unity of the divine messengers who brought these religions to humanity during their own time on earth.
The official website for the Baha’i Faith (www.bahai.org) offers this explanation:
Throughout history, God has sent to humanity a series of divine Educators—known as Manifestations of God—whose teachings have provided the basis for the advancement of civilization. These Manifestations have included Abraham, Krishna, Zoroaster, Moses, Buddha, Jesus, and Muhammad. Baha’u’llah, the latest of these Messengers, explained that the religions of the world come from the same Source and are in essence successive chapters of one religion from God.
The teachings are the same. It is the same foundation and the same temple. Truth is one, and without division. The teachings of Jesus are in a concentrated form. Men do not agree to this day as to the meaning of many of His sayings. His teachings are as a flower in the bud. Today, the bud is unfolding into flower! Baha’u’llah has expanded and fulfilled the teachings, and has applied them in detail to the whole world. – Abdu’l-Baha in London, p. 92.
I admit, though, that I do get weary of the degree to which North America is saturated with Christmas. From the music in the malls to Santa Claus parades, it feels a little over-the-top. I wonder, sometimes, whether Christ would appreciate the materialism his birthday now engenders. On the other hand, I participate in gift exchanges at the workplace, join friends for dinner, act as a “secret Santa” for random acts of kindness days, and enjoy other personal events.
Now, when store clerks and others who do not know me ask if I am ready for Christmas, I simply tell them that I don’t specifically celebrate it myself—though as a Baha’i I honor the spirit of the season. Then I ask them what THEY are doing. They are excited to tell me about their family’s traditions, the size of their tree, who is visiting, how they exchange gifts, what they will be eating, and the special outings they are planning. I sincerely listen, share their enthusiasm, and truly wish them the blessings of the season.
I wish a Merry Christmas to YOU, too.